Monday, December 02, 2013

Alberta Government found in contempt of the Legislature, but did the speaker overstep his authority after making the ruling?

A short time ago the Speaker of the Alberta Legislature, Gene Zwodesky, found a prima facie case of breach of privilege against the Government of Alberta for a mail-out it sent to all Albertans which made the following statement:

"Public sector employees,including teachers,doctors and government managers - as well as MLAs - are leading by example with multi-year wage freezes because it's the responsible thing to do for our province."

The offending parts of the statement, the words "as well as MLAs" + "multi-year wage freezes" as the mail-out occurred before the legislature, and in particular the Member Services Committee, had made any such decision on the pay of MLAs, and it is disrespectful to any parliament/legislature to ever assume that any decision will be made before it actually has been made.

Without going into the details on whether this was or was not disrespectful (it was/is) what happened following his ruling has me wondering if the speaker overstepped his authority and may himself be disrespecting the Alberta Legislature.

( Will fill the following with actual quotes when Hansard is available) Following his ruling the Speaker offered a chance for the Government to speak on the matter. The Deputy Premier rose to speak and was quickly shut down by the Speaker saying that he and the legislature were expecting an apology and not excuses or questions. The Deputy Premier then made an apology, the Speaker accepted it and declared that the matter was "concluded".

By convention in parliaments all around the world, including our federal parliament in Ottawa, the speaker's role in matters such as this is to decide if there is a 'prima facie case' that privilege was indeed breached, as Zwozdesky did, but once this has been determined their role in the matter ends. Look no farther than Ottawa for recent findings of contempt and the process following the ruling of the Speaker.

The Speaker does not decide any penalties, punishments or try to predict what actions the legislature may or may not take on the breach and certainly it is not up to him/her to decide for themselves that a simple apology is enough to conclude the matter. .

To do so is just as disrespectful to the legislature, by making assumptions on what the legislature will decide/not decide, as the original mail-out did.

I am not an expert on parliamentary procedure so if you have anything to add, feel free to leave a comment.

Here are some comments from someone much more knowledgeable on the subject than myself:

Please read the Alberta Legislature Standing Orders:  and the relevant rules used in Ottawa here.


A touch of irony. If the rules end up being followed and this matter does get before a legislative committee, that committee would be none other than the Standing Committee on Privileges and Elections, Standing Orders and Printing. More famously known as the "no-meet committee."  A history of Premier Redford and the No-meet committee.


1 comment:

JeffDG said...

Wow...the Speaker seems to be confusing a question of order, on which the Speaker rules and concludes the matter, and a question of privilege, where the Speaker's role is to determine if the question constitutes a prima facia question of privilege or not.

If it does, then the question of privilege is then put to the House, and the debate on such question takes precedence over almost all other matters.